2022 Yamaha XSR900 Review

| July 8, 2022

Yamaha is channeling one of its most famous liveries for the new XSR900, and the changes are more than superficial.

Chris Cantle channels his inner Christian Sarron on Highway 33. The new XSR900 will do that to a man.

By Chris Cantle | Photography by Adam Campbell

Over the past year, Yamaha has methodically relaunched its excellent three-motor 890cc CP3 line. First, the company tackled its game-changing sports standard, the MT-09, smoothing out some famous rough edges and making the machine a better playmate.

Then the Tracer 9 GT, already an excellent value-oriented tourer, got the same big dose of refinement. But Yamaha saved the best for last in their big update to the XSR900.

Let’s get down to the big stuff: Measured by parts count, the XSR900 is 90% new. While the styling change is noteworthy, marking an inspired shift from 70s machines to 80s race cars, the mechanical changes are no less subtle. Readers will notice the lightweight die-cast aluminum frame introduced by the MT-09. Sharp eyes might catch clever spin-forged wheels and a new adjustable KYB fork. What you won’t see is the effort to reduce weight inside the engine, or the work done to meet Euro 5 emissions standards.

2022 Yamaha XSR900 left side
It’s definitely a contender for our “Prettiest Bike of 2022” award. We should make this award a reality.

The XSR900 also gets a full suite of electronics that can keep pace with the deliciously rowdy powertrain. A six-axis IMU aids ABS cornering while standard cruise control helps make the XSR900 a competent commuter. The standard quick up/down shifter does away with shifting.

Taken together, this is a big leap forward for the XSR900. Even on paper. But in practice it’s even better.

On the road, the XSR900 has become the star of the CP3 family. We are familiar with Yamaha’s three-motor platform by now. The Tracer 9 GT and MT-09 are great. The MT-09, as always, is an unreal bargain. And the most recent update has made the driving experience exceptional. But the MT-09 is also visually brash to the point of looking cheesy. When stopped, it looks like it should be driving through a school zone. The stark contrast to the loudmouth MT-09, the brilliantly equipped Tracer is as solid a touring machine value proposition as you’ll find on sale today. But the Tracer picked up a funny little headlight squint and some of the MT-09’s garish angles. Worse still, it’s lost some of the rip and snort that so defines the wicked-good CP3 engine underneath. After riding them, both impressed us, but neither left us wanting more.

Rear wheel Yamaha XSR900 2022
The classic gold rims are pleasant to the touch and lighter than in 2021.

The XSR900 has no blocking. It’s an absolute delight, inhabiting a happy medium between the maturity of the Tracer and the silly joy of the MT-09.

Yamaha leaned into the racy aesthetic with a more aggressive riding position, moving the bars forward and down. It has screaming intake vents located on either side of the fuel tank. And the seat cushion is incredibly hard. Even bums accustomed to the abuse of long days in the saddle will be surprised by the XSR’s aggressively firm foam. Another detail ripped from runners of yore.

That’s all before you fire up the 890cc triple. The CP3 ignites with a clack and a big intake grunt. Like its stablemates, the 2022 XSR boasts a 3mm longer stroke (now 62.1mm) while using the same 78mm bore. This results in a displacement bump from 849cc to 890cc. The character is the same. It’s an instant reminder of what made the original Yamaha cross-plane grinder so compelling.

Yamaha XSR900 2022 Passenger Footpegs
The passenger footpegs fold down for a beautifully clean rear.

But it’s when you hit the clutch that all of Yamaha’s hard work on dialing in the XSR900 really becomes apparent. Up to California Highway 33, the XSR is a showoff. Big, fast sweepers are the rule, punctuated by occasional falling radius clutches and, further north, a few close hairpins. It soaks them all up, firm suspension keeping the tires glued to the tarmac. The corner exits are all loud and blurry, the brilliant engine opening up with a dramatic air intake and reminding you why you love motorcycles in the first place.

The machine has a longer wheelbase and a wider turning radius than the MT-09. It comes with a longer swingarm—the same treatment tamed the Tracer. But on the nimble and athletic XSR, the stabilizing effect combines with that riding position and the excellent Bridgestone Battleax S22 tires for terrific, quick and precise transitions. Instead of being stiff and uncomfortable, the new ergonomics and stiff seat padding encourage active riding and suspend your meat out of the seat.

2022 Yamaha XSR900 Swingarm
The swingarm, like many parts, was removed from the Tracer 9 GT.
2022 Yamaha XSR900 Mirrors
Bar end mirrors look great but can be a little awkward.
2022 Yamaha XSR900 static rear view
Aside from the huge exhaust manifold box, this is a beautifully finished motorcycle.

A reminder: This is an inexpensive machine. Other manufacturers make bikes that look fantastic and stimulate your every lizard brain impulse. Nobody but Yamaha does it for less than $10,000.

But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. The CP3 trio was built on a budget. From a packaging standpoint, they are notable for this. The thin-walled frame is exceptional for its ability to reduce manufacturing costs as well as weight, for example. And unsurprisingly, there are a good number of shared rooms around the family. The dash is the same as the MT-09, and there’s economy written all over it. The wonderfully functioning clutch lever also hangs oddly in the wind, and the bar end mirrors leave awkwardly filled brackets in their original homes. That long swing arm? All signs point to it being pulled directly from the Tracer. And you notice it when you go slow. A little extra lockdown would go a long way to making the XSR900 a little more nimble when haunting parking lots rather than foothills.

2022 Yamaha XSR900 at high speed
The XSR’s engine is a gem and will happily play through the canyons and tackle city chores without complaint.

It’s just little things. If that’s the extent of compromise we have to tolerate, consider us sold on Yamaha’s choices when digging through the parts bin.

Mainly because the great details of the design far outweigh a few small savings here and there. Take the passenger footpegs, for example. Rear seats have relied on the peg itself to stow for generations. This usually means a mounting point that hangs badly. On the XSR900, the passenger footpeg is a long, sleek arm that folds up and out to either side of the bike. When needed, the entire ensemble spins into place, landing with a satisfying mechanical snick. Somewhere right now a motorcycle designer is looking at them and slapping their forehead wondering why they didn’t think of Yamaha’s solution first.

2022 Yamaha XSR900 left side action
The racy stance is matched by excellent comfort thanks to firm seat padding.

The result is the machine it always should have been. The XSR900 was a classic. Almost. It was almost a perfect combination of style and sportiness. Almost the better and more refined alternative to its wildly exciting yahoo of a platform companion, the MT-09. Almost one of the easiest bikes to recommend to any avid cyclist.

But the XSR has always lived in the shadow of its showy, happy family, while suffering from the same annoying irritations: the famously frustrating throttle control on early machines, the oddly apparent cost-cutting on later bikes. And because of that, it was the odd one out, the black sheep. So far. NC

2022 Yamaha XSR900 Specifications

2022 Yamaha XSR900 Specifications

MSRP: $9399
Engine: Three cylinders in line
Valve train: DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder
Cooling system: Liquid
Shift: 890cc
Bore x stroke: 78×62.1mm
Compression ratio: 11.5:1
Fuel system: Multipoint sequential electronic injection
Exhaust: 3-1
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate
Transmission: 6 speeds
Frame: Die-cast aluminum
Front suspension: 41mm fork, USD, fully adjustable
Rear suspension: Single shock, spring preload, rebound damping adjustment.
Front wheel travel: 5.1 inches
Rear wheel travel: 5.4 in.
Front wheel: 17 x 3.5 inches
Rear wheel: 17 x 5.5 inches
Front tire: 120/70 ZR17 in.
Rear wheel: 180/55 ZR17 in.
Front brake: Dual 298mm floating discs, 4-piston radial-mount calipers, cornering ABS
Rear brake: Single 245mm disc, 2-piston sliding caliper, cornering ABS
Rake: 25°
Track: 4.3 inches
Seat height : 31.9 in.
Wheelbase: 58.9 in.
Weight (wet, claimed): 425 pounds.
Fuel capacity: 3.7 gal.
Colors: Legend Blue, Raven

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